There are people out there who set a course for their life early on, keep their sights fixed on that goal, and never waiver. My husband, Kevin, is one of those freakishly focused people. He knew the answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when he was in the third grade. I think that fact bears repeating – THE THIRD GRADE.
When all the other little 9 year-old boys were dreaming about becoming astronauts, magicians and professional baseball players, Kevin knew he would grow up to be a math teacher and from that point on he pursued his studies like a demon. He landed his dream job when he was 22 years-old, and has been happily teaching in the same school district for more than half his life.
Now let’s take a field trip to the other end of the ambition spectrum and visit me….
I wanted to be a Harlem Globetrotter in the fifth grade. I never took into account that I was about 4 ½ feet tall and had the athletic ability of the Pillsbury doughboy.
I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast like Mary Lou Retton in the sixth grade. Still not paying too much attention to my athletic ability, but at least my height would no longer be an issue. And I could do a mean summersault.
I wanted to be a veterinarian during my middle school years. Although I was a C student in school, I thought my love of all things fuzzy and cute would surely make up for my lack of academic acumen. I really just wanted to play with puppies and kittens all day long.
In high school I took my love of animals one step further and decided I was going to save the planet…. maybe not single-handedly, but I was going to lead the charge against animal cruelty. I wanted to join up with Greenpeace and become a marine biologist. Save the whales!!
In my second year of college, I came up against a harsh reality – in order to save the whales, I would first have to sit through a lot of REALLY boring science classes. I spent an entire semester in a class called phycology. Do you know that that is? You shouldn’t. I sure as hell didn’t. Phycology is the study of algae. And as titillating as algae can be, I nearly fashioned a noose out of seaweed by the end of that semester, unsure of whether I wanted to hang my professor or myself with the slimy green rope.
I suffered through those science classes for nearly two years, barely scraping by academically. After my first organic chemistry class, I decided enough was enough – the whales were going to have to suck it up and save themselves. I marched myself up to my academic advisor’s office, changed my major to psychology, and never looked back. Save the psychotics!!
No one told me that without a Masters degree or a PhD, my BA in psychology was about as useful as the decoder ring found at the bottom of a box of Cracker Jacks. So I worked on the outskirts of the psychology field for a few years, and then did what any sane person with no goals or ambitions would do – I had kids and became a stay-at-home mom (cue PTA mom hate mail…… NOW).
Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom and gain a lot of satisfaction from molding my kids’ young (thanks to me, probably also warped) minds. But my cup-of-joy was far from running over. It needed a little something extra, but what would make me happy? Normally I would say a shot of tequila, but I didn’t think that was going to work this time. Though I did give that option a try. Repeatedly.
There was one thing that always made me happy – writing. Even though I had many pursuits in my life, writing was my only true passion. I wrote it off as a hobby for years because I thought I had about as much chance of becoming a professional writer as I did of becoming a ballerina…. and that wasn’t going to happen because I look completely ridiculous in a tutu.
In the past, I pacified my writing bug by keeping a diary, writing insanely long emails, and composing clever facebook status updates; all the while telling myself that I didn’t have the self-discipline and perseverance to sit down and write everyday. What a dumbass.
But the older I got, the more my dream of becoming a professional writer kept needling me. There was one serious problem I couldn’t get past though – in my mind, I wasn’t a real writer. Between all the professional writers of the world and me, there seemed to be six degrees of separation intimidation:
- Real writers get their degree in English literature from ivy-league colleges. I already told you about my Cracker Jack prize college degree…. what I didn’t tell you was that I got my degree in psychology because I wanted to get school credit for learning about serial killers.
- Real writers can dissect novels to find the deeper meaning behind the plot and characters. The only thing I ever dissected was a frog in the sixth grade. I don’t think there was any deeper meaning behind it.
- Real writers publish articles in influential magazines like Time and The New Yorker. I don’t even read the articles in those magazines because they make my brain sweat.
- Real writers make millions of dollars writing boatloads of best-selling novels. I wrote two half-finished novels then quit because I realized I have the attention span of a squirrel.
- Real writers count William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, and Charles Dickens among their favorite authors. I thought Stephen King was the only author out there until I got a job at a bookstore at age 27 and learned otherwise.
- Real writers live in trendy cities, wear trendy clothes, and eat trendy foods. I live in the boring suburbs, wear boring “mom jeans”, and eat the same boring food I did when I was 10 years-old. Sushi makes me want to gag.
I thought I was screwed because I had nothing even remotely resembling the qualifications of a real writer. And without them, I was sure I would end up one of those sad, middle-aged people flipping burgers over at the local McDonald’s just so my husband and I could afford to put our kids through college (cue McDonald’s employee hate mail…. NOW).
Then six months ago, I had a WTF moment – which is kind of like a light bulb moment, but feels more like a kick in the ass than an epiphany. My thirties were coming to a rapid close, and before I hit the big 4-O next year, I wanted to stop all the dumbassery (Urban Dictionary says that’s a word), and start running down my dream.
A little inspirational Tom Petty moment for you.
I knew enough about myself not to attempt writing the great American novel, so I started a blog instead. I’ll never forget the very first comment made by a total stranger– I squealed like a 10 year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert and then danced around my living room. Real writers probably didn’t do that either, but I couldn’t help myself. It was a high unlike any other…. except maybe that one night of experimentation back in college, but that’s a story for another blog entry.
I didn’t think that high could ever be topped – until I got Freshly Pressed two months after starting my blog. When I realized what had happened, I cried like I had won an Academy Award. I gained 200 followers in one week, and I wasn’t even related to most of them!
But despite the outpouring of positive feedback from my readers, those six degrees of intimidation still haunted me and made me feel like my success was a fluke. I reasoned that someone on WordPress must have gotten drunk and made a clerical error when they picked me. It would definitely never happen again.
Then it did.
When I saw my blog on the Freshly Pressed page for the second time in six months, two things happened: First, I nearly peed my pants…. okay I did pee my pants, but only a little. Second, I had hundreds of people telling me that I was a good writer and for the first time, I actually believed them – that was a game changer for me. In that moment, my cup-of-joy was not only running over, I was positively soaked from head to toe (the pee had nothing to do with it).
And I have all of you guys to thank for it. Thank you SO much for believing in me before I was able to believe in myself. Your words of praise and encouragement mean more to me than I could ever express in words. Remember, I didn’t get my degree in English literature (like a real writer), so my vocabulary is really limited. This picture kind of sums it up….
I came to a conclusion that day.
Even if I never get paid a dime.
Even if I never publish a best-selling novel.
Even if I never figure out what the hell William Shakespeare is talking about.
I am now, and will always be, A REAL WRITER.